August 17, 2009
Cutting Your Driving Death Risks

Forbes has a useful article about the most dangerous times to drive. Do you wear a seat belt? Or are you trying to avoid getting old?

Nationwide, 49% of fatal crashes happen at night, with a fatality rate per mile of travel about three times as high as daytime hours. Of people killed at night, roughly two-thirds aren't wearing restraints. During the day, the percentage of unrestrained fatalities tends to be under half.

If you are an early riser and supermarkets near you are open 24x7 that's a good safe time to go shopping.

The fewest deaths by crash in 2007, the latest year with complete data, happened early in the morning, between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Those hours see significantly less traffic--only 9% of the average amount during peak hours.

But midnite to 4 AM is the most dangerous when adjusted for the number of drivers. That's partly due to people driving drunk from bars. But I wonder how much of those deaths are due to people falling asleep behind the wheel or just not functioning optimally due to sleep deprivation.

Mid-week days like Tuesday and Wednesday also pose the lowest number of fatalities, both averaging fewer drivers and 96 and 100 deaths per day, respectively.

Snowy days as a whole are safer than non-snowy days. People driving slower and more carefully must make a difference. But the first snow day is more dangerous than the average day. But the biggest risk? Cell phones. Do not use them when driving. Do not drink and drive. Be well rested.

Most of the data is in their slide show. Check out the Most Dangerous Times To Drive slide show. How many risks do you run? Can you avoid any of them?

If you are in denial about cell phone risks read this:

The research mirrors other studies about the dangers of multitasking behind the wheel. Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.

Texting is extremely dangerous in cars.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute used cameras to continuously observe light vehicle drivers and truckers for more than 6 million miles. It found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.

Any driving texters want to admit to their behavior in the comments? How do you justify your irresponsibility?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 August 17 08:05 PM  Fatality Risks

jim said at August 17, 2009 9:16 PM:

I personally avoid changing lanes as much as possible. Avoids my own errors, and the errors of people not seeing me. I also don't take country backroads if I can avoid them. Two lane country roads mean more head-on collision, which are especially deadly. Also any medical help is farther away than on major roads.

Mthson said at August 17, 2009 11:35 PM:

The periodic air travel crashes always remind me that no form of travel is risk-free in terms of catastrophic mission failure (the end of our lives).

One more advantage to being a "cybersapien" as much as possible.

Billy Oblivion said at August 18, 2009 4:19 AM:

"How do you justify your irresponsibility?"

There was study a long while back on incompetence. IIRC some 83% of people surveyed thought they were above average.

To be more blunt about it, most people aren't smart enough to realize just how bad they are at various things. Thus they think that while *those people* shouldn't be doing something, THEY can do it just fine because they're smarter/faster/more aware/better drivers etc.

Replace the drivers side airbag with a f'ing spike. That'll solve a LOT of problems.

Lono said at August 18, 2009 8:48 AM:

Really we just need automated driving...

It's already well within our technological ability - we just need the political will to implement it!


I take the risk of automobile crashes VERY seriously - and I personally know far to many people who lost/ruined their lives by driving under less than optimal conditions...

(sleepy, drunk, emotionaly charged, using/texting a phone, trying to outrun bad weather, etc...)

And if you don't wear a seatbelt - then you are simply a waste of space - and a bad risk to others around you.

David A. Young said at August 18, 2009 9:17 AM:


Why would not wearing a seatbelt make you a "bad risk to others around you?"

I agree with you about seatbelts, but I don't follow that piece of logic.

Dave said at August 18, 2009 11:12 AM:

I have no problem texting while I'm stopped at a light, thought that's still against the law wherever there are texting/driving laws, to the best of my knowledge. The worst that can happen is that I don't notice it's green, which is inconvenient for those behind me, but not dangerous (anyway it never happens because I am diligent about looking up to check the light). As soon as it's green, I put the phone down, even if I'm not done.

I absolutely never text while moving. It's idiotic. You need your full attention on the road, not least because you may have to avoid someone ELSE driving like a fool.

Brandon said at August 18, 2009 11:50 AM:

@Lono - While automated driving is technologically possible, it's still at least 5-10 years from being commercially feasible. It's not just a matter of political will. I do agree, however, that automated driving will dramatically reduce the prevalence of accidents.

@David A. Young: Why would not wearing a seatbelt make you a "bad risk to others around you?"

An unrestrained passenger has the potential to fly about the cabin during an accident, posing a projectile risk to other passengers. If I recall correctly, a unrestrained passenger in the rear seat actually poses more of a risk to the person seated directly in front of them than they pose to themselves.

Jason Quisnak said at August 18, 2009 12:05 PM:

I text while driving, however I only do it under one of three conditions:

I'm stopped at a red light.
I'm stopped in stop&go traffic.
I'm going fairly slowly on a long strech of road with no intersections and no other traffic (think of an abandoned interstate highway).

I'm fairly certain I'm not putting anyone else at much greater risk than average under these conditions.

Lono said at August 18, 2009 1:51 PM:


Exactly - also, let's not forget, during a glancing or indirect blow to the vehicle a belted driver is less likely to lose full control of the car than their, more ignorant, unbelted counterpart.

As far as automation in driving - I am equally interested in the reduction in traffic congestion as I am in the increase in safety. I think, for that reason alone, it can be economically justified right now.

However, without the political will to stimulate these changes with proper incentives, we might as well say it's 50 years away from commercialization imho.

As for you all who text while driving - even safely - don't you think maybe you should unplug once in a while?

(being tethered to communications can be as pathological as it can be liberating)

Todd P said at August 19, 2009 9:32 AM:

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute used cameras to continuously observe light vehicle drivers and truckers for more than 6 million miles. It found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.

Of course, the same VTTI study says cellphone use is NOT as risky as driving drunk:

"For example, talking and listening to a cell phone is not nearly as risky as driving while drunk at the legal limit of alcohol. Recent comparisons made in the literature greatly exaggerate the cell phone risk relative to the very serious effects of alcool use, which increases the risk of a fatal crash approximately seven times that of sober driving. Using simple fatal crash and phone use statistics, if talking on cell phones was as risky as driving while drunk, the number of fatal crashes would have increased roughly 50% in the last decade instead of remaining largely unchanged."


TTT said at August 19, 2009 1:04 PM:

Even though it would 'look strange', I think it is entirely logical to wear a light helmet with a wide field of view while driving.

40,000 deaths and 2 million injuries a year in the US from auto accidents. And the injuries include instances of being in a wheelchair for life, or getting bits of glass into your face and eyes, resulting in permanent blindless and disfigurement.

Someone should market a 'driving helmet', which is thin, light, and has a wide viewing field. It would slash injuries and death by a lot. Racecar drivers wear helmets, so why not us?

Another idea is a 'driving vest'. It has protection for the spinal cord and ribcage, but is still light and flexible. Sort of what motorcyclists wear, but thinner and lighter. Some light kevlar vests are just as thin as normal windbreakers and cost only $500. Get some additional padding around the spinal cord, and I think it would reduce driving injuries/deaths by a lot (given that after head injuries, the second biggest for is the steering wheel slamming the chest and breaking ribs.

If seatbelts and airbags are important, why not a suitable driving helment and vest? I'd wear them, and I'd pay $1000 for them (which in turn could help me negotiate my auto insurance premiums down).

TTT said at August 19, 2009 1:10 PM:

I can't believe people are stupid enough to text while driving.

Given the extremely low value of all text conversation, particularly among dumbshits who are heavy texters, it is absurd to give so much importance to texting.

I also bet that if there was a vote to raise the driving age from 16 to 18, it would pass. Drivers under 18 are a disproportionate number of accident-creators. People aged 18-22 are not much better, but since many of them are in college, they cannot afford/do not need cars anyway.

Grant said at August 20, 2009 7:54 AM:

I've texted while driving, usually on the freeway. Usually I'm terribly bored and NPR is awful with Prairie Home Companion or other insufferabilities. Justify it? What are you, a preacher? I do it, that's all. And I'll probably continue or be replaced by some kid who is texting while driving until the technique proliferates and everyone learns how to do it properly. Pointing out that its dangerous is one thing, being a wiener moralist is another.

Ben said at August 20, 2009 4:36 PM:

TTT, you can't believe people are stupid enough to text while driving yet it's entirely understandable for them not to wear driving helmets while driving? Is it understandable for people to choose long commutes to allow a better standard of living for their families? If someone chooses to live 40 miles from work instead of 10, that's exactly the same risk as texting on their cell phone every single minute of every commute in the latter case. It amazes me that so many people can't realize that risk is a continuum and criticizing someone's decision about where on that spectrum to operate is just like criticizing how much money they spend on their car.

Randall Parker said at August 20, 2009 8:03 PM:


So then you justify your texting while driving by delusion. You think you know how to do it. Okay, thanks for explaining.


You just have to look at the next commenter. Yep, they really do it and think I'm a wiener moralist for complaining. Welcome to the wiener moralist club. I'm thinking we should hold meetings.

Raise driving age: How much of the danger is due to the age of the drivers and how much is due to inexperience? Probably a higher age will reduce deaths. But I wonder if there is good data on this point.

tommyvee said at August 21, 2009 10:54 AM:

"It amazes me that so many people can't realize that risk is a continuum and criticizing someone's decision about where on that spectrum to operate is just like criticizing how much money they spend on their car."

The important distinction is that some behaviors (running redlights, texting, driving drunk, etc.) impose large risks on other unwilling citizens. So any civilized society will "criticize someone's decision about where to operate on that spectrum" when the impacts have very large impacts on other people.
Perhaps you should travel to Africa where traffic laws are frequently ignored, unenforced, or non-existent. Per mile death rates are many times higher than in US/Europe. I do not believe that anyone could make a rational arguement that those very high accidnet , death and injury rates benefit anyone except auto-body repair shop owners.

Randall Parker said at August 22, 2009 9:10 AM:

Risks of texting versus driving drunk: I suspect (though this is not clear) the researchers are saying that a driver texting while driving a mile is as dangerous as someone who has had a few drinks for that mile. But there's a difference here were the drunk is drunk the whole road trip. Whereas the texter isn't texting their entire road trip.

It seems common sense that someone looking at their phone display is more dangerous behind the wheel. Time spent on looking at the phone display is time where one misses a car braking or turning ahead or a kid jumping out.

TTT said at August 22, 2009 11:32 PM:

I agree with Randall. Texting while driving is stupid, period. It is even worse given the inane drivel that most people text over. Things that an intelligent person would find boring in even a face to face discussion is what these dumbshits are texting.

mike said at August 23, 2009 1:55 AM:

I drive in a country area in New Zealand where most roads are unlit at night and it amazes me how many still drive at the same speed they do in the day. Half the time I think they're just guessing what's ahead of them rather than actually seeing where they are going.

A lot of drivers seem to be more concerned with whether they will get pulled over for speeding (ie, they drive at the speed limit all the time regardless of conditions) rather than driving to the road conditions for there own personal safety.

Lono said at August 24, 2009 9:16 AM:



Audacious Epigone said at September 5, 2009 7:11 PM:

I text while driving for psychological reasons. Texting feels like a way of squandering time, and I usually don't respond to texts until I am in a situation where I'm unable to do anything productive. Driving is one of those times. I know better, too, because I do find myself veering into another lane while doing so (I don't text if I'm in any kind of traffic). It is pretty damn reckless, and I'm pledging, here and now, that it is a thing of the past for me. "Wiener moralist" my ass, you just made me a better person!

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